what is missions?
This can be a challenging question to answer - what is missions?
There are just so many different perceptions and ideas of what exactly entails Christian missions that few can come to a unified agreement as to how to define it. In fact, there is little to no real sense of clarity as to what is meant by missions and its practice cross-culturally. My friend Alan Johnson, a long time missionary to Southeast Asia, believes this lack of clarity is due to a variety of factors. One of the problems is that we have allowed the idea of missions to mean just about anything such that every person becomes a missionary (to their work, neighborhood, school, local club, stores, etc) - just about anywhere is now a "mission field" and any believer is a "missionary." What happens then is that, to quote Stephen Neill, "when everything is mission, nothing is mission." This then, had lead to general confusion at the local level as to what missions is and what it entails. I think this leads too, to general lack of financial support for cross-cultural missions work because many may not see the point.
My friend Alan Johnson says what has happened then is a "conflating of ideas regarding evangelistic outreach in a local church or movement context within its own sociocultural setting with missions. Thus, any kind of outreach at all becomes missions, with the deadening [or flattening] effect of equalizing all types of evangelism." Many folks think cross-cultural missions and local church or personal evangelism are the same thing, when they are not.
In and unpublished paper given at AGTS in 2006, Alan talked about this idea being "accompanied by concepts such as missions relating to the crossing of geographic borders, working with our own people in locations outside of our geopolitical borders, and where the term “missionary” is used, with the ubiquitous aphorism, 'everyone is a missionary.'"
He goes on to say "This results in people being sent outside of their country to preach the Gospel to their own people who are living abroad, while ignoring within their own borders those groups of different religious, social, and linguistic background who do not have church movements at all. It also devalues the cross-cultural worker because since we are all missionaries our field is wherever we live, thus giving all places equal priority no matter what the strength of the church is within that sociocultural setting. [brackets or italics mine]
It needs to be highlighted that there is a difference between geographical and socio-cultural borders. One is in regards to location. The other is in regards to cultural differences. These are vastly different. The question he is putting forth is doing "missions" work in a separate geographical location but among existing church structures and "missions" work among a completely different socio-cultural setting/location the same? He says no, they are not the same.
So back to the question, what is mission? Christian missions is that effort to proclaim the Christian gospel to people in those socio-cultural settings where the gospel has not only not been heard but where there is no means to hear the gospel message because no near Christian neighbor, with whom the non-christian person can hear and come to knowledge of Christ, exists.
So, is our workplace a mission field? No. Is our neighborhood a mission field? No. Unless our workplace or neighborhood is among non-Christians in a socio-cultural setting completely separate from our own, such as among Muslims in Dearborn or Khartoum, or Buddhists in Denver or Mongolia.
The emphasis here is on socio-cultural settings over geographical locations. There may be "missionaries" in Central America, Eastern Europe, or even South Asia but if they are teaching at a Bible school and/or working with existing church leaders then they may not really be missionaries but rather just Christian workers providing support in overseas contexts. True apostolic missions doesn't work among existing church structures but instead goes to settings where the church does not exist or is a very tiny minority.
This is still in progress for me so if you want to talk with me about it, please do.